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Genome testing can uncover shocking paternity results

Genetic research intended to reveal markers about hereditary illnesses has apparently had an unexpected — and profound — impact on some families.

According to data from the National Health Service (NHS) in England and Scotland, 10% of genetic tests reveal that the individual tested and their father are not a genetic biological match. After 220,000 screenings meant to identify the potential for Alzheimer’s and cancer in families, NHS officials find themselves in an increasingly awkward position. The genetic testing is undertaken for the sole purposes of delivering doctors with critical intelligence on patients more prone to cancer and hereditary diseases. However, researchers are now faced with the ethical decision to disclose or withhold family lineage findings.

The controversy of DNA disclosure

DNA testing has become so commonplace that some websites offer a kit in which saliva is tested for ancestry. The testing has led to the conclusion that approximately 4 to 10% of the population may be mistaken about their biological father. It should be noted that DNA kit testing is not immune from error, as well, so it is not clear if that range will be adjusted as more tests are taken.

In 2018, the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority posted a stern warning that people engaging in DNA testing may uncover secrets that could tear at the very fabric of their family apart. Imagine an adult with children and suddenly discovering your father and child’s grandfather has no biological connection. Genetic testing professionals appear to have already resolved the ethical dilemma by disclosing the DNA results.

Transparency’s high cost

Testing organizations see the potential to mitigate the risk of often fatal conditions such as breast and ovarian cancer. However, results that lead those tested to conclude that they — or their children — could have different parentage than previously believed may also have ramifications, including legal ones.

For people who are involved in paternity legal matters, DNA testing is both highly accurate and regularly used. Under Colorado law, a married man who’s wife has had a child is always legally assumed to be the father. Unwed fathers may have to protect their legal rights in order to get appropriate parental rights.

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